'Support staff are overworked, underpaid and undervalued'

Seven out of 10 of those surveyed by the NEU union say their workload has increased over the past year

Caroline Henshaw

Support staff are feeling the heat from funding cuts

School support staff are increasingly overworked, underpaid and undervalued, according to the largest-ever survey of the role by the National Education Union (NEU).

Seven out of 10 said their workload had increased over the past year and six out of 10 said support staff were expected to do teachers’ work.

Eighty-five per cent said funding cuts were having a negative effect on their school, forcing redundancies and leaving fewer resources.


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In England, support-staff numbers fell by 14,300 between November 2016 and November 2017.

"As staff have left, no others have been taken on; work is not getting done – which is affecting pupils, and staff stress levels are high, forcing staff to leave,” said an administrator in Essex.

Another cover supervisor from the same county complained of "broken chairs and desks for teachers and students”.

The survey adds to a growing number of studies exposing how cuts in per-pupil funding since 2010 are affecting all facets of school life.

One found that more teachers were feeling tense or worried about their job than in comparable professions, while another found teachers were working some of the longest hours in the world.

The NEU survey also found many support staff are doing unpaid overtime, echoing similar findings by the Trades Union Congress.

Three-quarters said they worked longer hours than they were contracted to do, mainly to keep up with workload because of redundancies.

Two-thirds said they were never paid or compensated for their additional work and only 15 per cent said they were regularly reimbursed.

“Unpaid hours are not just widespread, but normalised. The majority of support staff are made to do the work of teachers,” said NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney.

“They are seen as the cheap option. And, as the cuts bite, the numbers of support staff become fewer in the majority of schools. This is a deplorable situation."

The NEU found the number who said their workload was “never” manageable within their contracted hours had doubled since April, to 17 per cent.

"Too much needs to be done,” said one higher-level teaching assistant from Buckinghamshire.

“I use my lunchtime, come in before work and stay after my hours. I also do planning and preparation at weekends."

The union categorises “support staff” as teaching assistants, technicians, librarians, administrators, exam officers, catering staff, cleaners and pastoral staff.

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Caroline Henshaw

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